Ombudsman’s report exposes RUC/PSNI collusion with loyalist murder gang
28 January 2007
The publication of the much delayed report of the Police Ombudsman into allegations of collusion between the RUC/PSNI* Special Branch and loyalists has shone a narrow beam of light into the dark cave of state sponsored terrorism in the North of Ireland. Concentrating on the links between the RUC/PSNI Special Branch and the UVF in north Belfast in the 1990’s it details a litany of murderous violence, criminality and corruption.
The origins of the report date back to May 2002 when Raymond McCord made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, about police conduct in relation to the murder of his son, also called Raymond. He was found beaten to death in a quarry on the outskirts of north Belfast in 1997. A low level UVF member he was lured to his death by the leaders of its Mount Vernon unit after being caught by police in possession of drugs he had been selling on their behalf. There was speculation at the time that his killing had been ordered by a police agent within the UVF. This murder and the speculation about those responsible, like so many others in the North, could have quickly faded from public consciousness. That it did not is almost solely down to the efforts of Raymond McCord Senior. For almost ten years he has fought a lonely campaign to expose the killers of his son and those within the police who had protected them. During this period he has faced ongoing harassment from the police and numerous threats to his life from the UVF (the latest death threat coming two days before the publication of the Ombudsman’s report). He has also been shunned by unionist politicians who dismissed him as a crank or denounced him as a traitor to the Protestant community for daring to question the state security forces. The publication of the Ombudsman’s report is a testimony to Raymond McCord’s brave stand and a complete vindication of his claims. Indeed, what it revealed went beyond even his boldest assertions.
The Police Ombudsman’s report found that officers in Special Branch had protected informers in the Mount Vernon UVF, despite their repeated involvement in murder and other crimes. The most notorious of these informers was Mark Haddock, referred to as informer no.1 in the report. His name has been in the public realm for some time. In a statement to Dail last year, Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte named Haddock as an agent and connected him and his gang to a number of murders in north Belfast. Further revelations appeared on local TV and newspapers. These relied largely on the testimony of former RUC detectives, Johnston “Jonty “ Brown and Trevor McIlwrath, who claimed that Special Branch had blocked their investigations into Haddock’s crimes. Haddock himself is now in jail after recently being convicted of the attempted murder of a doorman in Newtownabbey in 2002 (at that time he was still a police agent). While out on bail on that charge Haddock’s former UVF colleagues attempted to kill him. Two men appeared in court in connection with this murder attempt but the case was dismissed.
So, at the time of the publication of the Ombudsman’s report, the identity of Haddock, the murders that his gang had been involved in, and the claims of police collusion were already well known. Relying on intelligence and witness statements, the report gives a detailed account of Haddock’s career a police agent within the UVF between 1991 and 2003. Over this period, Haddock was paid at least £79,840 by the state. During this same period, Haddock and his gang were linked to 10 murders, plus 72 other crimes including 10 attempted murders, extortion, drug dealing and a bomb attack in the South.
Haddock’s first murder victim was Catholic taxi driver Sharon McKenna. Described as a “good Samaritan” she was shot dead while visiting the Shore Road home of an elderly Protestant woman in 1993. Haddock was never charged even though he made an admission to detectives. In addition, there was a witness to this murder who described one of the gunmen has having a beard. Special Branch officers allowed Haddock to shave off his beard before joining an identity parade. His handlers said they “could not afford to lose him”. In the wake of the McKenna murder Haddock’s retainer fee was increased by sixty per cent and he was given £500 to go on holiday.
Over the next ten years Haddock’s gang continued to murder with impunity. They were certainly involved in nine further murders, and were suspected in another six. Throughout Special Branch did their utmost to protect Haddock from prosecution. Vital intelligence about murders and other serious crimes involving Mount Vernon UVF was withheld by from detectives investigating the cases. Searches for UVF arms were blocked by Special Branch. Misleading information was prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions. False notes on interviews were created by officers. Haddock was "babysat" through police interviews to ensure he did not incriminate himself. In October 2000, a Special Branch assessment stated that Haddock was “not currently involved in criminality”. He remained an informer during the transition from the RUC to the PSNI. It took until 2003 for Haddock to be stood down as an agent. This came at a time when his activities were attracting public attention (largely through the efforts of Raymond McCord Snr) and he had become a liability.
The Ombudsman’s report concludes that the Special Branch in north Belfast "could not have operated as they did without the knowledge and support at the highest levels of the RUC and the PSNI." Despite the finding that collusion went right to the top the report says it is unlikely that any police would face charges. It claimed that the intelligence material that formed the basis of the report would not be admissible as evidence in a court case. Also, a number of documents, including parts of murder files, decision logs and intelligence documents were found to be either missing, lost or destroyed.
The reaction to the to the Ombudsman’s report broke along nationalist/unionist lines. Despite the damning and detailed nature of the report, unionists contemptuously dismissed its findings. David Burnside of the UUP accused the Nuala O’Loan of conducting a “campaign of vilification” against Special Branch. His colleague Lord Maginnis, considered a liberal by unionist standards, dismissed her report not only as "rubbish" but as having "an alternative agenda" (a code for republican propaganda). The DUP’s Jimmy Spratt, a former chair of the Police Federation, claimed that report was based on “little fact”. Jeffrey Donaldson’s mealy mouthed response was to claim that maybe “one or two” officers “didn’t play within the rules”. This was probably the closest that unionists got to conceding that anything untoward had gone on within Special Branch.
The dismissive attitude of the unionist was echoed in a statement from the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers' Association, a body representing the offices at the centre of the Ombudsman’s report. Many of these officers, including three former heads of Special Branch, refused to co-operate with her investigation. Their statement completely rejected the report, describing its claims as “unfounded and incapable of substantiation.” They claimed they had “nothing to be ashamed about and much to be proud of.” The most shameless reaction to the Ombudsman’s report came from the UVF aligned PUP. In a statement its new leader Dawn Purvis claimed that she found its contents "both appalling and shameful". However, she attached no shame to the UVF. Its murderous activities were put down to the presence of a few police informants within its ranks. The PUP statement concluded with the comforting words that their “thoughts are with the families of those killed”. Despite this concern she refused Raymond McCord’s request for a meeting. Obviously Purvis has learnt well from her predecessor David Ervine. She is able to act as mouthpiece for a Loyalist gang while oozing support for its victims. What is even more ludicrous is that in her capacity as a member of the Policing Board she is supposed to examining the claims of police collusion with the UVF.
The British reaction was to express regret at what had happened and offer reassurance that such things could never happen again. Tony Blair said the report was “about the past”, and that what was important was that the “new structures” of policing would mean that “these events could not happen now”. Peter Hain put police collusion down to a “culture” that “developed in the context of a murderous war”. An implication of this is that the state would not have had to resort to such measures if there had not been a challenge to its authority. The Irish Government echoed the British line, with Bertie Ahern describing the report as “deeply disturbing”, but reassuring people that “much has changed for the better in recent years”.
The most pathetic response to the Ombudsman’s report came from Sinn Fein. Previously police collusion with loyalists had been cited as a reason not to endorse the PSNI, but now that was being used as a reason for the party to get involved in policing. According to Gerry Adams the collusion report represented “another reason why republicans must take ownership of the accountability mechanisms we have secured for policing”. The job of Sinn Fein therefore was “to hold the police to account”. Gerry Kelly said it was up to “up to the accountability mechanisms, hard negotiated, to ensure that no-one at any level in a police force can do it again”. With the special ard fheis approaching Sinn Fein were not going to highlight anything that that would cast doubts on their claims of a new start for policing. The SDLP were able to outflank Sinn Fein on the Ombudsman’s report, appearing to take a far stronger position on the issue of collusion. Mark Durkan claimed it was his party that ensured the Police Ombudsman had the power to investigate theses cases. He also publicly named the three former Special Branch heads who refused to co-operate with the investigation, and called on the former RUC/PSNI chief constable Ronnie Flanagan to resign from his post in the Inspectorate of Constabulary. Martin McGuinness made a laughable attempt to trump Durkan when he called for Flanagan to be sacked and for Margaret Thatcher to be investigated! In fact the report covers a period of time when Blair was in power. By blaming Thatcher Sinn Fein are able to close their eyes to the involvement of the current government, supposed guarantors of a new dispensation.
Despite the rhetoric from the SDLP the concentration on Flanagan actually deflects the real substance of collusion. There is no doubt that Flanagan knew what was going on with police collusion. He told Ombudsman investigators that he had no knowledge of the claims about collusion in north Belfast, when he had in fact been alerted to them by the Stevens inquiry team in 2000. What is remarkable is that he was appointed to Inspectorate of Constabulary in 2002. This is the body that is supposed to uphold standards in Britain’s police forces. It is also been involved in training the new Iraqi police force to tackle sectarian militias! However, police officers are only state functionaries. In colluding with loyalists they were only carrying out a policy that had the knowledge and approval of Government ministers. Senior Special Branch officers attended weekly meetings of the joint policy group at Stormont that were chaired by the Secretary of State. In the period covered in the Ombudsman’s report such meetings would have been presided over by Patrick Mayhew, Mo Mowlam, Peter Mandelson, and Paul Murphy. By focusing attention on the police officers their political masters are absolved of any responsibility. Of course questioning these British ministers would be also to question the integrity of the peace process in which they were heavily involved. It is easy for Martin McGuinness to bash Thatcher, but what about Blair, what did he know?
All in the past?
Though they may have a different emphasis, all the party and Government statements agree on one thing – that whatever happened it is in the past and cannot happen again. This is particularly the case with Sinn Fein, which is trumpeting the changes that have been made to policing in order to justify their endorsement of the state forces. The problem is that collusion is ongoing; it didn’t stop in 2003. The loyalist organisations remain armed and active, and continue to be thoroughly infiltrated with state agents. Since 2004, the UVF has been involved in eight murders. Both it and the UDA also continue to be involved in a litany of other crimes. Given the level of penetration the state could roll up these organisations quite easily. But it doesn’t. This is because they still play a vital role in the maintenance of the Northern sate. They continue to stir up sectarian tensions, and stamp on the emergence of dissident elements within the Protestant community. In many cases it is members of the Protestant community who are the most immediate victims of loyalists. This role is also being legitimised by the British throwing money at Loyalists and recognising them as legitimate representatives of their community. Such collusion is more subtle than in the past, but there is no reason to believe the loyalists will not return to a murderous campaign if the state is challenged again.
The Ombudsman’s report offers more evidence that collusion was not just a case of abuse or corruption by members of the state security forces but a policy of the British Government. It joins the long list of the Stalker and Sampson inquires. The Stevens inquiry, which resulted in 25 files being sent to the Public Prosecutor but no one being charged. The Barron investigation into the Dublin/Monaghan bombs, with which the British refused to co-operate. Canadian Judge Cory’s call for an inquiry into murders in which he found indications of collusion, after which the British a passed a law that will make it impossible for the truth to be uncovered. The report of the Oireachtas committee investigation into British security involvement in acts of terrorism in 1970s which concluded, “We now have enough information to be fully satisfied not only that it (collusion) occurred, but that it was widespread.” The investigation panel of legal experts which reported last November that members of the RUC and UDR colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 74 murders between 1972 and 1977.
Despite this mounting evidence the British continue to deny collusion. There is no political pressure on them to admit their role as this has the potential to destabilise the peace process that all the parties’ support. They are not going to seriously question the state that acts as the foundation and guarantor of that process. The rhetoric of the SDLP and Sinn Fein is nothing more than electioneering and attempts at one-upmanship. Unfortunately, those seeking the truth and justice for the victims are likely to be disappointed.
Instead of the O’Loan report leading to the end of links between the state and the death squads, it in fact leads to demands that we all collude. Workers in the North are asked to close their eyes, bury collusion in the past and vote for a new dawn and a new assembly. No-one is to comment on the fact that unionists were able to prevent the existing assembly from discussing the report, or that Sinn Fein’s potential partners in government openly support and justify the states involvement in running the loyalist squads. Above all we are to ignore the very public manoeuvring of the British government to ensure that the intelligence structures behind the collusion remain in place and that the law is tweaked to restrict human rights and allow future cover-ups.
This should tell us two things. It highlights the shameful and criminal role of Sinn Fein in drawing a veil over the real nature of the Northern colony and the steps needed to keep it in being. It also indicates that the cover-up is futile. A settlement unable to face up to this issue is unable to deal with any of the issues arising from imperialist occupation or the sectarian division of society and is bound to fail.
*In the context of this article the term RUC/PSNI is used to indicate that the period dealt with in the Ombudsman’s report covers the transition of the police force in the North and the rebadging of the RUC as the PSNI.